Prince Mavi on Food Stamps!

Jalousie’s orig­i­nal owner ac­cused of wel­fare fraud

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ear­lier this week an ar­ti­cle ap­peared on­line that cen­tered on a po­lice raid on an Ohio mil­lion­aire’s home for ev­i­dence that he al­legedly col­lected food stamps while he had mil­lions in the bank. Said the on­line source, the po­lice raided the ex­pan­sive es­tate of Ali Pas­cal Mahvi “to in­ves­ti­gate po­ten­tial theft, Med­i­caid and Wel­fare fraud.” Geauga County prose­cu­tor James R. Flaiz was quoted as say­ing: “It’s out­ra­geous to see a sit­u­a­tion where some­body is liv­ing in a house worth al­most a mil­lion dol­lars, with a horse barn, drives lux­ury cars, has mil­lions of dol­lars in over­seas bank ac­counts and here they are ac­cept­ing this type of as­sis­tance.”

The story claimed au­thor­i­ties had con­nected him to a $4.2 mil­lion Swiss bank ac­count that Mahvi in­sisted be­longed to his fa­ther Abol­fath Mirza Mahvi. With roots in Ira­nian roy­alty, he had founded sev­eral ma­jor in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses. While as of last week­end nei­ther the Ohio Mahvi nor fam­ily mem­bers had been charged with any crime, in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­vealed they had this year de­posited at least $30,000 in six sep­a­rate trans­ac­tions, each un­der $10,000 at a time.

Mean­while, they had de­clared zero in­come on their Med­i­caid ap­pli­ca­tions and re­ceived $300 a month for the past two years in food stamps. They also said they’d had to bor­row $25,000 from friends. In his own de­fense Ali Pas­cal Mahvi in­sisted he is not a wealthy man and is el­i­gi­ble for Wel­fare aid de­spite the value of his home and pos­ses­sions. He is quoted as say­ing: “It was our right to ap­ply for food stamps, so I ap­plied. If you don’t like the food stamp sys­tem, change it.” Mahvi was cred­ited as the au­thor of Deadly Se­crets of Ira­nian Princes: Au­dac­ity to Act, a me­moir about his life as the de­scen­dant of Ira­nian roy­alty.

As I pe­rused the seem­ingly far­fetched item, some­thing about the name of its cen­tral fig­ure chal­lenged my sense of re­call. Pas­cal Mahvi sounded fa­mil­iar. But I was thrown off by the Ohio mil­lion­aire’s given name: Ali. The pic­ture that ac­com­pa­nied the piece wasn’t much help. I was about to dis­miss the whole thing as co­in­ci­dence, even on­line fic­tion, when my eye caught the fol­low­ing in the fi­nal para­graph: “Mahvi boasted that he is the son of an Ira­nian prince with huge prop­er­ties in the Mid­dle East, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Saint Lu­cia.”

Yes, Saint Lu­cia! Now I knew for cer­tain there was some­thing to the story— es­pe­cially if it turned out that the os­ten­si­ble mil­lion­aire who had been ac­cused of food stamps fraud, as wild as it sounded, was the in­di­vid­ual I knew as Pas­cal Mahvi back in the early 90s. I had writ­ten reams about his ad­ven­tures with the gov­ern­ments of John Compton, Vaughan Lewis and Kenny An­thony—not to men­tion lo­cal unions.

In 1991 Pas­cal Mahvi had pur­chased from the fa­mously ec­cen­tric Lord Glen­con­ner Colin Ten­nant the prop­erty be­tween Soufriere’s Sul­phur Springs and the Pi­tons (now a Her­itage Site) on which the Ira­nian and his mys­te­ri­ous M Group would set up Jalousie Ho­tel, later to be re­named Sugar Beach. By re­li­able ac­count Mahvi’s fa­ther had in the last days of Reza Pahlevi, the Shah of Iran, man­aged to shift over a bil­lion pounds to United States ac­counts. Fol­low­ing a short va­ca­tion in Saint Lu­cia, he had forked out US$500,000 for 320 out of the 480 acres that was Jalousie Es­tate. In 1982, when his son con­tro­ver­sially passed away, Ten­nant had bought it from its Amer­i­can owner, an el­derly woman, for US$1.8 mil­lion. As he told me when I in­ter­viewed him for the pur­poses of my book Lapses

& In­fe­lic­i­ties sev­eral months be­fore his death on 27 Au­gust 2010, “the place was then an ab­so­lute jun­gle, with only a foot­path here and there.”

News that the pre­vi­ously ig­nored but en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive prop­erty was about to be turned by de­spised Ira­ni­ans into a con­crete jun­gle gen­er­ated wide­spread con­tro­versy. Lo­cal jour­nal­ists were barred from the con­struc­tion site. But a white Amer­i­can free­lancer, pos­ing as a tourist, had lit­tle dif­fi­culty get­ting past the barbed wire fenc­ing. He later sub­mit­ted to this news­pa­per what he had un­cov­ered, af­ter talk­ing with the pro­ject’s Ira­nian co­or­di­na­tor Ku­rush Aranya, one of a half dozen or so of “Prince” Mahvi’s co­horts who had es­tab­lished them­selves in Soufriere.

Among Ran­dall’s rev­e­la­tions: “I was some­what taken aback when Aranya non­cha­lantly ad­mit­ted the own­ers of the prop­erty, the M Group, a sub­sidiary of a Geneva-based fi­nance com­pany, had no in­ter­est what­so­ever in the lo­cals. All they cared about were the rich tourists they hoped to at­tract in droves once their ho­tel was up and run­ning. Their in­ten­tion was to leave their well-heeled pa­trons no rea­son to ven­ture out­side the pe­riph­ery.”

The pre­dictable fall­out from Ran­dall’s re­port was swift. The op­po­si­tion St. Lu­cia Labour Party, en­vi­ron­ment­con­scious na­tives in­clud­ing Derek Wal­cott and the renowned artist Llewellyn Xavier, banded to­gether in united protest against what they con­sid­ered the “des­e­cra­tion of ground con­sid­ered sa­cred by our an­ces­tors.” Even JeanMichel Cousteau, son of world fa­mous con­ser­va­tion­ist and ex­plorer Jac­ques Cousteau, ex­pressed grave con­cern in a Mi­ami Her­ald fea­ture en­ti­tled “De­vel­op­ment in Saint Lu­cia Af­fects Us All,” also re­pro­duced in this news­pa­per. In his ar­ti­cle JeanMichel Cousteau re­called that in 1985 the gov­ern­ment of Saint Lu­cia had re­quested of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States tech­ni­cal ad­vice on how to de­velop the site.

“Rec­og­niz­ing the out­stand­ing nat­u­ral fea­tures of the Pi­tons as an in­ter­na­tional at­trac­tion,” Cousteau wrote, “the OAS rec­om­mended keep­ing this jewel as a cen­ter­piece through the es­tab­lish­ment of the Pi­tons Na­tional Park, a re­serve that would at­tract tourists to its land­scape, na­ture trails and un­der­wa­ter scenery.”

By Cousteau’s ac­count,

the OAS re­port pre­dicted the park would im­prove eco­nomic con­di­tions in Soufriere by stim­u­lat­ing pe­riph­eral busi­nesses as well as gen­er­at­ing funds to im­prove the town’s pub­lic ser­vices—such as sew­er­age treat­ment. The OAS pro­jected costs for cre­at­ing the park at roughly US$1.6 mil­lion, likely to be raised from in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment sources, and es­ti­mated US$8 mil­lion in an­nual in­come to Soufriere by the park’s third year. It also pre­dicted the cre­ation of 400 per­ma­nent jobs.

The non-bind­ing OAS study con­cluded that a pri­vate ho­tel and vil­las be­tween the Pi­tons, then con­tem­plated by out­side in­vestors for the Jalousie area, would be in­com­pat­i­ble with the park, and that the suc­cess of the small ho­tels, vil­las and guest houses, as well as other tourism-sup­port­ing small busi­nesses, would be doubt­ful in the ab­sence of the park. Ob­served Cousteau, tellingly: “What is at play now in Saint Lu­cia are two al­ter­na­tive philoso­phies likely to come into in­creas­ing con­flict as the world’s un­de­vel­oped places be­come fewer: one would pre­serve their un­touched qual­ity to cre­ate mon­e­tary value; the other would al­ter their qual­ity to cre­ate value. Only time will tell which strat­egy does the most good for the peo­ple of Soufriere, home of the Pi­tons.” Well, now we all know!

As for our No­bel win­ner, he fired off sev­eral protest let­ters to the STAR, more than one re­fer­ring to “the rape of fair He­len.” Wal­cott con­cluded that “only minds in­ca­pable of metaphor” could have ne­go­ti­ated the sale of land be­tween the Pi­tons for a ho­tel.

He added: “May the next gen­er­a­tion curse a gov­ern­ment so blind it handed over a na­tion sealed, de­liv­ered and signed.”

Then there was the pre­vi­ously un­heard of Saint Lu­cia En­vi­ron­ment and De­vel­op­ment Ac­tion Coun­cil (SLEDAC). Prom­i­nent mem­bers in­cluded the afore­men­tioned artist Xavier, UWI lec­turer Dr. Len Ish­mael, and Ge­orge Od­lum’s then fa­vorite in­tel­lec­tual Kenny An­thony. With Derek Wal­cott al­ways present at their protest meet­ings with the press, SLEDAC was guar­an­teed weekly head­lines.

But enough, for now. The rest of the Mahvi-Jalousie story is de­tailed in Lapses &

In­fe­lic­i­ties. Suf­fice it to say the ho­tel that opened for busi­ness on Oc­to­ber 2, 1992 proved a mis­er­able fail­ure, for sev­eral rea­sons—the main one be­ing the boss’ pen­chant for in­ter­fer­ing with ho­tel oper­a­tions about which he knew noth­ing at all. At any rate, so his man­agers claimed. On at least one oc­ca­sion the John Compton gov­ern­ment had ap­pealed to lo­cal busi­ness houses to eat Prince Mahvi’s moun­tain­ous debts.

Pre­dictably on hand at the big event was the day’s prime min­is­ter John Compton (his wife would in time op­er­ate her own bou­tique on the premises). He took the op­por­tu­nity to rem­i­nisce about past “moon­lit cruises in the val­ley of the Pi­tons” aboard his boat, in the process re­duc­ing know­ing guests among the in­vited 2,000 to tears of con­cu­pis­cent de­light. (Ac­cord­ing to Colin Ten­nant, Compton had given the Jalousie de­vel­op­ers ev­ery in­cen­tive not to aban­don their plans. At one of their sev­eral meet­ings at the height of the to build or not to build con­tro­versy, said Ten­nant, the prime min­is­ter had ad­vised the Ira­ni­ans to “do what you have to do. I won’t mind a bit if you have to break one or two mos­quito kneecaps along the way!”)

He de­clared the oc­ca­sion “a night for lovers” and gen­tly ad­mon­ished “per­sons who crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment for per­mit­ting this de­vel­op­ment.” No need for names. Only a few in his au­di­ence may not have known he re­ferred to the then Afro-ed and lean Kenny An­thony—des­tined to sing for his own Jalousie sup­per, pre­pared by tone-deaf strangers—and to the No­bel­bound Wal­cott.

The poet had dis­missed the gov­ern­ment’s pro-Jalousie ex­hor­ta­tions as “the ar­gu­ment of whores!”

Prime Min­is­ter John Compton in his el­e­ment at the 1992 open­ing of Jalousie Ho­tel “a night for lovers” is how he de­scribed the oc­ca­sion). ( At left, Colin Ten­nant.

Jalousie owner Prince Pas­cal Mahvi (cen­ter) flanked by com­merce min­is­ter Ge­orge Mal­let (left) and tourism min­is­ter Ro­manus Lan­siquot.

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